Sarah Malka Eisen’s story as the director of Beit Daniella is one of tragedy and friendship. Beit Daniella is a rehabilitative day center for youth in Tsur Hadassah, a picturesque pastoral village in the Judean Hills. It was established in memory of Daniella Pardes, a 14-year old who took her own life on Dec. 11, 2017.
Daniella was the daughter of Dr. Hadassa Jakobovits Pardes, and Pardes is Eisen’s best friend. They met over 40 years ago in seventh grade in Toronto. They studied in Jerusalem together during their gap year and attended the University of Toronto together. Eisen introduced Pardes to her husband.
Eisen was overjoyed when, at long last, her best friend moved to Israel from Belgium 10 years ago. In Israel, the families lived just 30 minutes apart.
“That was exciting for us because we felt like we really had family here,” Eisen said, given that her own extended family lives in the U.S. and Canada. “When Hadassa moved, finally my kids had cousins,” she said. “So when Daniella took her own life, it was a total earthquake. It wasn’t just my best friend’s daughter, it was my son’s cousin.”
Daniella had an eating disorder. She was hospitalized for three months. When she was discharged, she was not healthy enough to return to her school. But she needed a framework, structure, support. While she was going to an outpatient clinic a few times a week, Eisen said “that wasn’t sufficient for her. It wasn’t holistic. She had no skills whatsoever to deal with what was going on.”
“I’m an activist. For me it’s a very natural thing to see a problem and figure out what we’re going to do to fix it.” — Sarah Malka Eisen
For so many struggling with mental illness in Israel, there is a glaring gap in services. The hospitals provide acute care. In cases of anorexia, they get patients’ weight up. In cases of depression, they work to adjust the medications. But then what?
“They have whatever brought them into the hospital, but the hospital is also itself a trauma. They are cut off from their friends, their school, their community … and then they have to go back into society,” Eisen said. After Daniella’s death, it became very clear, Eisen said, “there is no ramp.”
And so, during Daniella’s shivah, the idea for Beit Daniella was born.
“I’m an activist,” Eisen said. “For me it’s a very natural thing to see a problem and figure out what we’re going to do to fix it.”
Today, Beit Daniella has a robust multidisciplinary team spanning animal therapy to Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. The center, housed within the Havat Harei Yehuda horse stables is the type of place that would have helped Daniella, Eisen said.
“This is about empowerment; strengthening the healthy part of you,” Eisen said of Beit Daniella. “Our dream is really to make sure that this facility is available all over the country. That there are day centers where kids can go and transition back into their schools, communities and families in a healthy way.”